A month ago, when I received Advance Reader Copes (ARCs) for my memoir, I received an email from my publisher, Brooke Warner, saying “congrats!!” in the subject line. “The books look amazing,” she said, and I agreed, but then she added that she had some feedback for me from She Writes Press’s sales force (via their distributor, Ingram Publisher Services) that she wanted to share with me via phone.
My first impulse was panic. What kind of “feedback”? I wondered. It’s the sales force’s job to sell my book to bookstores and libraries, so it’s important that they like it. Enthusiasm counts. Since Brooke’s tone was upbeat, and since her email arrived early Sunday morning and we wouldn’t talk until Tuesday, I decided rather than torture myself with negative thinking, I’d stay positive and sit tight. Who knows? I thought. Maybe she’s going to tell me the sales team loves my memoir.
But when Brooke opened our Tuesday morning call with: “This probably isn’t going to land well with you considering how far along you are in this process—” I knew I was wrong. My gut clenched. Adrenaline raced through my body as I envisioned having to rewrite my book. Fortunately, the news wasn’t that drastic. “They don’t like your subtitle,” she told me. “They think it’s soft.”
I was numb. “Do they have another one in mind?” I asked.
“No,” Brooke said.
After the shock wore off I was pissed and defensive. I reminded Brooke how positive she’d been about my original subtitle, which had been through three iterations in five years. First it had been A Midlife Healing Journey. Then it changed to How I Cured Chronic Stomach Problems and Began Living My Dreams. And finally, after describing my manuscript to a stranger at a holiday party, it became A Midlife Quest for Health and Happiness.
“This is what happens when you just sit with what you’re doing and feel it,” Brooke had told me after that third (and so I thought final) version. We were both happy with it and thought it accurately described what the book was—which was the goal we’d been striving for.
“You don’t have to change it,” Brooke said, reminding me that publishing isn’t an exact science. There’s no formula for success. But I figured I’d be a fool not to listen to the sales team. Besides, according to Brooke, they were interested in the anxiety angle, noting how rampant this emotion is in the world right now, with so many people unaware, as I was, of the role it plays in their lives and health.
I was open to brainstorming new ideas, which Brooke offered to help me do, along with Annie Tucker, my gifted copyeditor. “If we don’t come up with something we all like better, we’ll leave it as is,” I told Brooke.
That week, I tinkered with ideas and sent them to Brooke, Annie, and my wonderful publicist, Joanne McCall. Joanne liked the idea of cutting the word “midlife” because my memoir speaks to people of all ages. This encouraged me—even when I didn’t know if we’d be able to come up with something that felt organic and truthful.
I remained skeptical that I would like anything better than my current subtitle, and I was nervous about promising something my book couldn’t deliver. Brooke assured me she wouldn’t let that happen, and despite my doubts about coming up with something great in a few days, I learned two things: first, three heads are better than one, and second, when something is meant to be, it can come easily. Things don’t have to be hard. Within a week my new subtitle was born: My Journey from Anxiety to Joy.
At first this subtitle terrified me. I felt exposed and vulnerable. But gradually I accepted and owned the fact that anxiety is the crux of my story. I had no idea when I set out to write my memoir that I was writing a book about anxiety. I thought I was writing about how raw food cured my chronic stomach problems. Even after I finished the book, I didn’t realize I’d written a story about anxiety. Author Gayle Brandeis pointed it out to me after graciously agreeing to review my book.
I realize now that I didn’t fully claim what I’d written until I properly named it. My secret is out—in the world, but also on the level of my own understanding. I finally get what I’ve been dealing with for the past thirteen-plus years. It wasn’t always obvious to me. For a long time I had no idea my physical maladies stemmed from anxiety, but it was there, underneath my productive, cheerful façade. And then grief and family drama exploded it into an anxiety disorder that I tried to treat holistically.
Sometimes when we write we have no idea what we’re writing about. We don’t know the ways in which our writing writes us. It’s a journey, and although we may have a map in the form of a well-developed outline, we travel to unknown destinations, and healing takes place.
I am grateful to the sales team for their feedback, which forced me as an artist to dig deeper into the truth of my story. This experience has been a reminder to worry less and trust more. It’s been helpful to see what can happen when we choose love over fear. This is a conscious choice and a daily practice—as is shifting from anxiety to joy.